Monday, September 20, 2004 +

G. C. Lichtenberg

From The Lichtenberg Reader: Selected Writings of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, translated, edited, and introduced by Franz H. Mautner and Henry Hatfield, Boston, 1959.

There is a great difference between still believing something and believing it again. Still to believe that the moon affects the planets reveals stupidity and superstition, but to believe it again is a sign of philosophy and reflection.

I should try in vain to express in words what I feel when I whistle the hymn "In all my earthly doings" really well on a quite evening and think the words to it.

That I always compare the years of an author whose life I am reading, with my own - something I did even in my youth - is entirely within human nature.

Really to appreciate a seemingly unimportant piece of good fortune, we must always imagine that it was lost and we got it back this very minute. But some experience of all sorts of sorrows is needed to carry out these experiments successfully.

The critics instruct us to stay close to nature, and authors read this advice; but they always think it safer to stay close to authors who have stayed close to nature.

The first satire was assuredly written for vengeance' sake. To use it in order to better one's neighbor - against vice and not aginst the vicious - is already a thought which has been prettied up, cooled, tamed.

We shall not separate too much, not abstract too much: the great raffineurs have made the fewest discoveries, I believe. The usefulness of the human machine is precisely that it shows totals.

To do the opposite is also a form of imitation, and the definitions of imitation ought by rights to include both.

He has been so long at giving birth without anything coming of it that even now presumably nothing will come of it unless there's a Caesarean operation.

There is surely something genuine in religious hatred, therefore presumably something useful. I do wish that this element could be discovered. Our philosophers speak of religious hatred as something which could perhaps be argued away; but surely this is not the case.

The words divine service should be reassigned and no longer used for attending church, but only for good deeds.

He received very warm - rather burned - thanks.

In the last analysis we Christians are nothing more than a sect of Jews.

The priest: You are man-eaters, you New Zealanders.
New Zealander: And you are God-eaters, you priests.

How much depends on the way things are presented in this world can be seen from the very fact that coffee drunk out of wine glasses is really miserable stuff, as is meat cut at the table with a pair of scissors. Worst of all, as I once actually saw, is butter spread on a piece of bread with an old though very clean razor.

He kept continually polishing himself and finally became dull before he got sharp.

Is it really so absolutely certain that our reason can know nothing metaphysical? Might man not be able to weave his ideas of God with just as much purpose as the spider weaves his net to catch flies? Or, in other words: might not beings exist who admire us as much for our ideas of God and immortality as we admire the spider and the silkworm?

After a fire drove him from his bedroom at night:

On this occasion I found an observation confirmed which I had already made before. The danger of fire, and perhaps and presumably every danger, is more terrrible to the imagination than in re; we usually think of such things when body and soul are ill disposed. When the danger is actually at hand, brooding, the product of coddling and idleness, disappears, and one becomes a man of action who keeps his eye only on res facti. I was cautious and alert, completely calm, and ready for all eventualities.

To his godson, recently born:

...When you begin to walk, I, of course, allow you to fall down, for a regular boy falls at least three times a day. But just don't fall on your so-called pate, for that God gave you to write compendia; and not on your nose, for that serves to set spectacles on. Rather you will soon find that Nature equipped you in the middle of your body (N.B. towards the rear) with two cushions, which are called buttocks. Look, dear boy, these two things have no use in the world except the following, which can conveniently be arranged in four groups:

1) During the study of the Latin language and of Christianity, or when naughty, in the beginning to be whacked with the hand, and in more mature years with the rod.

2) To fall on it. So when you notice that you would fall on your head, you make a leap and fall on your respective falling-mats.

3) To let yourself down on them or, as one says, to sit down. For since the chairs of the Patriarchs were of wood or stone, Nature had to attach the cushions to the body. Today, when people, the upper class particularly, frequently lose these natural pillows, buttocks have been attached to the chairs themselves.

4) And the principal use. If some nasty fellow is reviling you and does not even have the guts to stand up to you until you've been able to box his ears, open your coat in the rear and show him your cushions. In learned controversies, this type of self-defense is not valid; scholars have a very special backside, usually called moral, which does not lie at the center of their system. How people show it to each other, you will learn at the universities, where there is abundant opportunity for mutual instruction; this science is called polemics.